By Vacks Phupheli
Changing South Africa and making it work is too important a task to be left solely In the hands of politicians. I think it was Smuts Ngonyama, former ANC NEC member who later formed COPE (I am not sure if he subsequently rejoined the ruling party) who once said, “I didn’t join the struggle to be poor.” On the face of it, this statement sounds like a noble statement made in jest - but on digging deeper about its real meaning, one understands that South Africa is where it is today because the so-called struggle heroes are now public servants tasked with delivering services to the citizens.
The mind shift from struggle heroes to public servants is one not to be underestimated. That transition was not properly planned for. Put simply, here is a person who earned R5000 (or nothing at all) before 1994, and now Is a minister/ MEC/DG, etc, earning R100 000.
The transition from ‘fighting the system’ to ‘being the system’ is the root cause of poor service delivery with many of them juggling their roles as public servants with that of increasing their own personal wealth to ensure that their time in exile is well compensated by any means necessary, and therein lays the problem. What I imply by the aforementioned “by any means necessary” is that one is willing to flout certain laws and regulations for personal gain and achieve crass materialism at the expense of the people who need it most. A friend of mine and I recently found ourselves trying to figure out just what the Minister/Ministry of Anything but Men (Aka Ministry of Women, Children and people with disability) actually do.
Suffice to say, we didn’t get far with that assignment.
The South African political system is not very conducive to having public servants to account for their responsibilities, or lack thereof. Cadre deployment, as it is fashionably called in the political and government circles, coupled with rhetoric such as that made by Smuts Ngonyama is but one of the reasons why our public service system does not work as well as it should. It is as if anything run by government is dysfunctional from public schools to public hospitals and back to public toilets. One needs only to visit a government department to experience the kind of lethargic demeanour in which one is subjected to. It is as if people have been dragged out of their homes to come to work. The culture on non-performance, non- accountability and no responsibility is the reason why South Africa is not working today. Two decades down the line and we still have not gotten it right. The current government has made some strides in trying to change the lives of many South Africans, however, we seem to be heading for a downward spiral, and continuing to defend mediocrity using the age old excuse of apartheid. Trevor Manuel, one of the ANC’s star icons was lambasted, even by his own comrades to stating the obvious. He said, “We cannot continue to blame apartheid for our failings as a state. We cannot plead ignorance or inexperience. For almost two decades, the public has been patient in the face of mediocre services. The time for change, for a ruthless focus on implementation has come.”
I, for one, agree with Manuel, without reservation. Apartheid was a horrible evil act. But, at what point do we take ownership of some of the problems that we face in our communities? At what point do we come up with innovative solutions to make South Africa work? Can we honestly blame apartheid for the fact that some kids in Limpopo still don’t have textbooks? My only misgiving is that he (Manuel) was, for the last 18 years a part of the same group of people that he now purports to advice. I don’t think that Manuel, and any other like-minded politician are just waking up to the fact that South Africa is not working as well as they make it appear to be. Yes, we cannot continue to blame apartheid for our failings as a state, and YES, the public has been patient in the face of mediocre services. But how long will they continue to “understand?”
Change is what is needed. Change in mind-set. Basically, a change in the thinking ministry is a need in our country. As the old adage goes: “you can’t keep doing the same thing expecting different results.”
I am of the view that in order create a safe space for the country to work, civil society must get more involved in ensuring that politicians are not left at their discretion to continue in the path that the country is treading on.
In a strategic meeting I had with a friend about an NGO we recently formed, we tried to come up with a scope of how wide we wanted to take the work of the educational NGO. After the session we realized the scope was just too broad, and I recall remarking, “I think we are now wanting to do Angie Motshekga and Blade Nzimande’s jobs respectively”. It later donned on me that part of the reason why we came up with such a wide scope as a civil organization was that somebody in Government was not doing their work.
In order to make the country work, everybody must fold their sleeves and get their hands dirty. To leave the responsibility to government is tantamount to failing our own people and our innocent children.
The practice of Cadre deployment used by the ruling party is creating a crisis of (non) service delivery at national level, provincial level and most of all at the local level where even the municipal counselors are incapable, if not unwilling, to fulfill their most basic requirements; that of doing what they are paid to do. A shift in mind-set is needed. The rhetoric needs to change. Every day, frustrated callers call into radio stations, complaining about every service delivery issue you can think. And as the radio hosts try to get any answer from government officials, the response is always the same: “We will create 100 000 jobs by the year 2015” - “we have created a task team to probe the issue” - “We will leave no stone unturned to investigate corruption” - and the like.
We can all contribute to being the thinkers and doers that will drive that meaningful change in Society. The change that will make South Africa work.
Vacks holds a Masters Degree in Psychology from the University of KZN. Although he's no longer in the practice, he continues to provide Research and Psycho-Social Analysis to various stakeholders and interest groups including TV programmes, Newspapers and Magazines. He is a resident Psychologist for a TV show ‘Shift’ in on SABC and guests on such shows as ‘Positive Talk with Chriselda Kanada’ on Metro FM.
He also manages and runs various entities. He's the COO of Media House and MD of Molotsi Productions. He covers Research, TV and Radio Productions, Marketing and Multimedia Communications, which includes media and communication solutions and producing TV ad Radio programmes. Vacks is a specialist communications consultant with 10years experience and through his productions work he produces content for SABC and many other clients. He's also engaged in a lot of Community Development activities.